Champions League Draw - Third Round Qualifiers
I am pleased that Liverpool and Everton have avoided each other in the third round draw, provided, of course, that Liverpool fend off FBK Kaunas in the 2nd leg. Expectations stated that Liverpool should do, and I feel they will, but then again AC Milan were expected to beat Liverpool, and Celtic were not expected to lose, much less so heavily.
But to have avoided our neighbours is a relief. Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry mentions that, in so many words, without the country protection afforded to the group stages, conspiracy theorists would indicate a Merseyside tie as an inevitable outcome from the draw. Not only would such a tie have had a hype-up in the media, but it would put one side out of the competition so early, which would be detrimental to English football, and I want to see all the British sides going through at least the group stages. Besides, given the sensitive issue previously about Liverpool qualifying as winners and 4th place, it was best these two did not meet at this stage.
Saying that, Liverpool could face either CSKA Sofia or Dinamo Tirana, though the Bulgarians have the 2-0 advantage. I see Sofia coming through, their European pedigree is quite strong, particularly in the UEFA Cup campaign. They played Blackburn in the UEFA Cup October 2002 and narrowly avoided victory, being 0-3 down in the 2nd leg and coming back to 3-3, Blackburn going through on away goals. Sofia have come from an almost unbeaten run last season in the Wisscha League, losing only their final game and drawing 4 times out of 30 matches.
Everton face Villarreal, who have held Barcelona during the Catalans' emergence towards the Primera Liga title, losing 9, drawing 11 out of 38 games and achieving 3rd place. Last year they went as high as the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, losing to Dutch side AZ Alkmar 3-2, they acquired the services of a rejuvenated Diego Forlan and they have recently signed Juve defender Alessio Tacchinardi. They can provide good competition for the Toffees.
Manchester United play either Hungary's Debrecen or Croatia's Hadjuk Split. Debrencen (Debreceni VSC) lost 4, drew 5 out of 30 games last season while Hadjuk lost 8, drew 8 out of 32. The Hungarian side have the 3-0 lead for the 2nd leg and therefore seem set to progress. Now with the Premiership competition tightening up, it was a toss-up out of Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd as to who will be in this position, as opposed to Man Utd and Arsenal enjoying the monopoly between themselves of 1st and 2nd places almost every season. Sir Alex's preparation has gone well so far other than last night's friendly defeat, preparation which seem to have brought out the worst between Rio Ferdinand and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. With Edwin Van Der Sar in goal and his European experience to add, and Park Ji-sung in promising form, Utd have added to their campaign for a better European tour.
Champions League Third Round qualifying draw
Basle 1893 v Werder Bremen
Glasgow Celtic or Artmedia Bratislava v Partizan Belgrade or FC Sheriff
Shakhtar Donetsk v Inter
Shelbourne or Steaua Bucharest v Rosenborg
Man Utd v Debreceni VSC or Hajduk Split
Malmo or Maccabi Haifa v Dynamo Kiev or FC Thun
Everton v Villarreal
Liverpool or FBK Kaunas v CSKA Sofia or Dinamo Tirana
Sporting Lisbon v Udinese
Valerenga or FC Haka v Clube Brugge
Rapid Vienna or Dudelange v Rabotnicki or Lokomotiv Moscow
Anderlecht or Neftchi v Slavia Prague
Trabzonspor or Anorthosis v Glasgow Rangers
Brondby or Dynamo Tbilisi v Ajax
Real Betis v Monaco
Wisla Krakow v Panathinaikos